Arguably the most essential offensive skill in a basketball player’s arsenal, the lay-up is an invaluable asset when mastered and a source of ridicule when left underdeveloped. Nothing, whether in league or pick-up play, is more humiliating then missing a lay-up. Yet when this shot is practiced, it becomes the highest percentage shot available until the dunk is enabled.
While the lay-up is almost universally regarded as a beginning, basic skill, its imporance and significance cannot be understated: It is absolutely integral to teach the lay-up properly to learning players, youth or otherwise. There are a few concepts to keep in mind that will effectively assist the process.
Although a finger-roll can appear to be simple, there are several dynamics at work. A player must already have some competence in their dribbling and ball-handling skills, and be able to move with the ball, along with basic shooting know-how enough to handle the ball with one hand. He or she must have at least some nominal court vision, rather than bad downward ball-staring habits. Ideally, in addition to running fluidly with the ball, they will also have a quick first step and the ability to turn corners, pivoting quickly in motion.
While the lay-up will never be considered an advanced technique, care should be taken to first ensure the basic foundation is in place before establishing it in any routine coaching.
Many points of topic can be made and written concerning the mechanics of a lay-up. Within training circles, you will often hear references made to such oblique factors as the degree of the angle at which a person’s knees should be bent when they jump for their attempt.
In reality, and certainly when coaching in a younger environment, you do not need to train everyone on the minutiae of the physics involved. There are, though, a few simple tips to remember to make every lay-in count.
– Use the Backboard, Aim for the Square
Fairly self-explanatory, this rule means that nobody should be taking “swish” shots at such a close range. Feel free, when questioned on why to aim for the square, to use the phrase: “That’s what it’s there for!”
– Use Opposite Hand from Jumping Foot
Debate can arise as to whether a player should always use their strong hand, or whether the hand they use is dependent on which side of the rim they approach from. What is arguably more important is that players understand that if they jump off their left foot, they should use their right hand.
– Move Quickly, Jump Closely
Whether in a tight situation under the boards or in a run-and-gun fast break, every baller should be able to perform a lay-up while running their fastest, hustling into a sprint. In addition, they should not be trying to showboat from the free-throw line when they come in.
3. The Drill
Everyone loves the lay-up drill! Remarkable in its simplicity and brutal in its effectiveness, this is the key tool to work out a team of players into lay-up machines.
To set up, just have the team evenly divide into two lines, facing the rim, at the three-point line, each group halfway between the top of the arc and the boundary of the court; essentially, splitting the court into thirds.
Give the ball to the front person in whichever line/side you want to start from. That player will run to the basket and attempt a lay-up, whereas the front player in the other line will run forward and grab the rebound. The rebounder will then pass the ball to the new front person in the lay-up line, both players will go to the back of their respective lines, and keep going.
Let the lines completely run through a few times, then give the ball to the other side, or have the players switch sides. Each practice, divide the players in a different manner. Once the drill is in motion, it is a beautiful example of a self-sustaining machine that sharpens every player involved.
Unlike some niche techniques in basketball play, the lay-up is one that, once mastered, will always be useful, and will generally see use in every scrimmage, every game. To grant a younger player this ability is to provide a lasting move they can be proud of, and the thrill they get from performing it in a game for the first time is priceless. Worry about finger-rolls and through-the-legs later; for now, just adhere to that classic coaching clich: Practice, practice, practice!